The Relation of Strength of Stimulus to Rapidity of Habit-Formation

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THE RELATION OF STRENGTH OF STIMULUS TO RAPIDITY OF HABIT-FORMATION Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson (1908)
First published in Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18, 459-482.

In connection with a study of various aspects of the modifiability of behavior in the dancing mouse a need for definite knowledge concerning the relation of strength of stimulus to rate of learning arose. It was for the purpose of obtaining this knowledge that we planned and executed the experiments which are now to be described. Our work was greatly facilitated by the advice and assistance of Doctor E. G. MARTIN, Professor G. W. PIERCE, and Professor A. E. KENNELLY, and we desire to express here both our indebtedness and our thanks for their generous services. The habit whose formation we attempted to study quantitatively, with respect to the strength of the stimulus which favored its formation, may be described as the white-black discrimination habit. Of the mice which served as subjects in the investigation it was demanded that they choose and enter one of two boxes or passage-ways. One of the boxes was white; the other black. No matter what their relative positions, the subject was required to choose the white one. Attempts to enter the black box resulted in the receipt of a disagreeable electric shock. It was our task to discover (1) whether the strength of this electric stimulus influences the rapidity with which dancers acquire the habit of avoiding the black passage-way, and if so, (2) what particular strength of stimulus is most favorable to the acquisition of this habit. As a detailed account of the important features of the white-black visual discrimination habit in the dancer has already been published,[1] a brief description of our method of experimentation [p. 460] will suffice for the purposes of this paper. A sketch of the experiment box used by us in this investigation appears as fig. 1, and a ground plan of the box with its electric attachments, as fig. 2.

This apparatus consisted of a wooden box 94 cm. long; 30 cm. wide; and 11.5 cm. deep (inside measurements), which was divided into a nest-box, A, (fig. 2) an entrance chamber, B, and two electric boxes, W, W, together with alleys which connected these boxes with the nest-box. The doorways between the electric boxes and the alleys were 5 by 5 cm. On the floor of each electric box, as is shown in the figures, were the wires of an interrupted circuit [p. 461] which could be completed by the experimenter, by closing the key K, whenever the feet of a mouse rested upon any two adjacent wires in either of the boxes. In this circuit were an electric battery and a Porter inductorium. One of these electric boxes bore black cards, and the other white cards similarly arranged. Each box bore two cards. One was at the entrance on the outside of the box and the other on the inside, as fig. 1 indicates.

The latter consisted of three sections of which two constituted linings for the sides of the box and the third a cover for a portion of the open top of the box. In no case did these inside cards extend the entire length of the electric boxes. The white and black cards were readily interchangeable, and they never were left on the same electric box for more than four consecutive tests. The [p. 462] order in which they were shifted during twenty-five series of ten tests each, in addition to the preference series A and B, is given in table 1. In case a mouse required more than twenty-five series of tests (250 tests), the same set of changes was repeated, beginning with series 1. In the table the letters r and l refer to the position of the white cards; r indicates that they marked the electric box which was on the right of the mouse as it approached the entrances of the electric boxes from the nest-box; l indicates that it marked the left electric box. The way in which this apparatus was used may be indicated by a brief description of our experimental procedure. A...
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